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Evaluating Desired Conditions for Mexican Spotted Owl Nesting and Roosting Habitat

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The Mexican spotted owl (Strix occidentalis lucida) was listed as a threatened species in 1993, primarily because of concerns over the loss of late seral forest habitat to timber harvest and wildfire. A recovery plan prepared for this owl subspecies explicitly assumed that nesting (and/or roosting) habitat was a primary factor limiting distribution of Mexican spotted owls and provided four desired conditions for identifying and managing potential owl nesting/roosting habitat in forested habitat. We used data collected at nest sites of Mexican spotted owls in the Sacramento Mountains, New Mexico, to evaluate how well these desired conditions and associated forest structural attributes described nesting habitat in this area. All nest sites included in our analyses successfully fledged young during the study. These nest sites generally featured higher levels of the structural attributes included in the desired conditions (total basal area, density of trees >46 cm in dbh, percentage of basal area in trees 30‐46 cm dbh, and percentage of basal area in trees >46 cm dbh) than the surrounding stand, yet only 46‐87% of sampled nest sites met single desired conditions and only 22% met all four conditions simultaneously. The best generalized linear models using combinations of these four structural attributes plus canopy cover to distinguish between nest sites and random sites within owl home ranges all contained canopy cover and percentage of basal area in trees >46 cm dbh. Relative importance values were high for both of these attributes (1.000 and 0.983, respectively), and confidence intervals around parameter estimates included zero for all other attributes. The present combination of four desired conditions did not consistently identify nesting habitat in this area, required managing for levels of structural attributes that were greater than levels typically observed at successful owl nest sites, and did not include canopy cover, which was the single best predictor in the Sacramento Mountains. We recommend revising the desired conditions in the Sacramento Mountains to emphasize canopy cover and some attribute measuring the large tree component. We also recommend repeating this assessment in other geographic areas to determine how well the desired conditions for those areas describe nesting habitat for owls.
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Keywords: Mexican spotted owl; Strix occidentalis lucida; adaptive management; basal area; canopy cover; large trees; management recommendations; recovery planning

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 2016-08-30

More about this publication?
  • Forest Science is a peer-reviewed journal publishing fundamental and applied research that explores all aspects of natural and social sciences as they apply to the function and management of the forested ecosystems of the world. Topics include silviculture, forest management, biometrics, economics, entomology & pathology, fire & fuels management, forest ecology, genetics & tree improvement, geospatial technologies, harvesting & utilization, landscape ecology, operations research, forest policy, physiology, recreation, social sciences, soils & hydrology, and wildlife management.
    Forest Science is published bimonthly in February, April, June, August, October, and December.

    2016 Impact Factor: 1.782 (Rank 17/64 in forestry)

    Average time from submission to first decision: 62.5 days*
    June 1, 2016 to Feb. 28, 2017

    Also published by SAF:
    Journal of Forestry
    Other SAF Publications
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